Author Erin Hart's debut novel captures the reader's attention almost immediately, when Irish farmers cutting turf for fuel discover a decapitated head immersed in a peat bog. Archeologist Cormac Maguire and Dr. Nora Gavin, a medical school professor interested in bog bodies, are called to the site, near Lough Derg, several hours from Dublin.
While the young woman's remains are tested, Nora and Cormac become engaged in an excavation project at nearby Bracklyn House, the home of Hugh Osborne. An air of unease hovers over the Osborne household—where Hugh resides with his cousin Lucy and her son, Jeremy—because of the disappearance of Hugh's wife and young son almost three years ago.
Suspense continues to build in these two evolving mysteries as Nora and Cormac attempt, through local folklore and historical records, to discover the identity and time of death of the red-haired bog woman. Meanwhile, a detective continues his quest to solve the mysterious disappearance of Osborne's wife and child, even as Nora and Cormac are threatened if they do not halt their excavation of the priory.
The mystical Irish countryside provides the perfect backdrop for this carefully crafted novel, where a hundreds-of-years-old mystery collides with a contemporary crime. Enigmatic, well-developed characters cement this read into a beguiling, multifaceted mystery. (May, 352 pp., $24.00)